PHOTOBOOK REVIEWS, INTERVIEWS AND WRITE-UPS
ALONG WITH THE LATEST PHOTO-EYE NEWS

Social Media

Book Review: On a Wet Bough


Book Review On a Wet Bough By Keliy Anderson-Staley Reviewed by David Ondrik On a Wet Bough is a collection of Keliy Anderson-Staley’s black and white portraits. The eighty four sitters reflect the tremendous diversity of humanity — young, old, gay, white, black, brown, big nosed, pierced, disheveled, straight, coifed, slick — it’s all here in crisp detail.

On a Wet Bough. By Keliy Anderson-Staley.
Waltz Books, 2014.
 
On a Wet Bough
Reviewed by David Ondrik

On a Wet Bough
Photographs by Keliy Anderson-Staley
Waltz Books, 2014. 144 pp., 85 duotone illustrations, 11x14".


On a Wet Bough is a collection of Keliy Anderson-Staley’s black and white portraits. The eighty four sitters reflect the tremendous diversity of humanity — young, old, gay, white, black, brown, big nosed, pierced, disheveled, straight, coifed, slick — it’s all here in crisp detail. Each portrait is reproduced at about 8”x10”, except for the few group portraits, horizontal images scaled to fit the page. There’s no information about the physical images themselves, so it’s not clear if we’re looking at one-to-one reproductions or not.

The portraits are formal affairs that, compositionally, owe much to Richard Avedon and a perhaps a little bit to Adam Vroman’s 19th century portraits of Native Americans. Each of her subjects appears raw in front of us against a neutral, featureless background. Almost all of them stare at the camera, and therefore us, fully aware of the camera and active participants in having their picture made. There is minimal (or even no) attempt to conceal “imperfections” from us, which, combined with the close cropped images, brings to mind Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc — every pore, stray hair, freckle, and wrinkle is left for us to consider. The extremely narrow depth of field is focused on the sitter’s eyes and creates a wonderful play of sharp and blur across their features. We can read a surprising amount even through this indistinct haze.

On a Wet Bough. By Keliy Anderson-Staley. Waltz Books, 2014.

In looking for a few images to reference specifically, I was instantly struck by Gordon, 2012. It is a portrait of a bald African American man. His cheeks are pitted with acne scars, his black goatee is salted with white, and his eyes hold the sad wisdom of Rembrandt’s most moving paintings. Gordon’s portrait has a compelling, quiet dignity that I can only think is reflective of the man himself.

On a Wet Bough. By Keliy Anderson-Staley. Waltz Books, 2014.
On a Wet Bough. By Keliy Anderson-Staley. Waltz Books, 2014.

But it might not be, since it’s not really possible to know anything about Gordon from a picture alone. He could be a veteran of the Civil Rights movement, a doctor, plumber, teacher, or delivery truck driver. He might be on his third marriage or a devoted bachelor. We only know what he looked like at the moment the shutter was pressed, when he sat in front of Anderson-Staley’s camera, but even that has been cleverly distorted by her choice of process — wet plate collodion. This 19th century process not only flips the image (what looks to us to be a right eye is actually the sitter’s left) it is also sensitive to blue light. This is why freckles look especially dark and blue eyes can appear nearly white.

On a Wet Bough. By Keliy Anderson-Staley. Waltz Books, 2014.

None of that really matters though, because, to borrow from Magritte, this is not Gordon. It’s a picture of Gordon. The process used is immaterial, in spite of the lustrous atmosphere it creates. If the image was shot with a 5D Mark III it would not be any closer to being Gordon. Since there’s no truth to be had by taking someone’s picture, Anderson-Staley’s images allow us to create our own stories about the people in the pictures – which might well be far more interesting than being told the “truth.”—DAVID ONDRIK

Purchase Book

Selected as one of the Best Books of 2014 by:
Andy Adams
Blake Andrews

DAVID ONDRIK is an artist, high school art teacher, and writer who grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico and now lives in Portland, Oregon. http://www.artisdead.net.

No comments:

Post a Comment